Deathsport is a 1978 sci-fi action drama, directed by Nicholas Niciphor, with additional shots directed by Allan Arkush, and produced by Roger Corman. The film is a somewhat spiritual successor to the classic B-movie action romp Deathrace 2000 (1975), both starring David Carradine in the main role (though as different, unrelated characters).
“A thousand years from tomorrow” after the Neutron Wars, the world becomes fractured into a barbaric collection of city-states surrounded by wastelands, where only mutant cannibals and independent warriors, known as Range Guides, can live. Led by Lord Zirpola, the city-state of Helix is planning a war on another state, Tritan, for its fuel supply. Hoping to prove the superiority of their newest weapons, the Death Machines (laser-equipped dirt bikes), they create a new pastime – Deathsport.
Although the original Deathrace 2000 was a well-written piece of cult classic exploitation, Corman’s sequel had difficulty throughout the majority of its production. Suffering from what was considered a poorly written script, the majority of directors under contract with New World Pictures were disinterested in taking on the project – Calling the story “half-baked” compared to its predecessor. However, after a tough rewrite from Nicholas Niciphor, he was eventually handed the film’s directorial duties. Despite this, Corman was still not happy with the project, even going as far as warning David Carradine, who was signed to a five-picture contract with New World pictures at the time, to drop the film entirely.
Shooting the majority of the film in the Los Angeles desert, Nicholas Niciphor has been quoted as saying the production had descended into hell by the third day. “The script was too ambitious, the shooting schedule too tight, and…the crew and the cast were largely sodden with drugs.” It had become apparent during production that both the leads had a problem with alcohol and cocaine, as well as being very open about this fact. Both David Carradine and Claudia Jennings would often be intoxicated whilst filming, leading to a number of altercations between crew members – Carradine even hospitalising the director with a broken nose at one point.
That notwithstanding, Deathsport is an unadulterated exploration of blood, boobs, and bangs; delivering on every aspect expected of a Corman production of the time. An intriguing blend of apocalyptic sci-fi with high-fantasy sword and sorcery, the film effortlessly crafts a seamless world for the two genres to intermingle. Whilst the fantasy elements are fairly standard for films of the time, the sci-fi aspects implement comedic levels of effects, reminiscent of old 50s films such as War of the Worlds (1953). Utilising the manipulation of editing for many of the visual effects, the film employs the power of rotoscoping laser effects, and jump-cutting extras out of existence seem to dominate a large part of the carnage on display.
Even so, that isn’t to say that Deathsport doesn’t feature a monumental quota of explosives to provide its special effects, seemingly using any excuse to blow something up in the name of cinema. Due to Nicholas Niciphor suffering from PTSD from his time in the US army during the Vietnam war (although he is quoted later saying it was his refusal to continue working with Carradine), director Allan Arkush was bought in to shoot these scenes. With help from Carradine and some high-grade weed, the crew proceeded to tear up the desert with high-powered explosives-providing some incredibly exhilarating action, albeit a dangerous situation for the cast.
Deathsport is available to order on Blu-ray from 101 Films here. This Blu-ray also contains special features, including:
- Commentary with Co-Director Allan Arkush and Editor Larry Bock
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spot
- Radio Spot
- Still Gallery
- English Subtitles
An unrelenting roller coaster of sci-fi fantasy action, Deathsport is still a cult classic in its own right despite it not being as highly thought of as Deathrace 2000. With an earnest performance from the lead cast, plenty of high-octane action, and a plethora of explosions; Deathsport is a highly entertaining piece of exploitation cinema and a must-watch for fans of David Carradine, Rodger Corman, and New World Pictures.
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Hey there, I’m Jim and I’m located in London, UK. I am a Writer and Managing Director here at Grimoire of Horror. A lifelong love of horror and writing has led me down this rabbit hole, allowing me to meet many amazing people and experience some truly original artwork. I specialise in world cinema, manga/graphic novels, and video games but will sometime traverse into the unknown in search of adventure.